Start delivering products online Weee! encourages customers to share videos with recipes and favorite products in their app. It specializes in hard-to-reach Asian products as well as fruits, vegetables and other staple foods.


Online product startup Weee! specializes in hard-to-reach products from Asian and Spanish cuisines. Earlier this year, he found another rarity: a big Hollywood name in his executive room.

The company has hired John M. Chu, director of “Crazy Rich Asians” and Lynn-Manuel Miranda’s film “At the Heights”, as the main creative director. Chu shares his storytelling experience with films in which food and culture play a central role, an internal team of about 10 people that highlights the unique dishes and ingredients needed to prepare them – sold at the ever-expanding Weee! online platform.

Chu said he presents that presents non-traditional features in online stores, such as playlists that customers can listen to while cooking, or follow-up emails they can receive about the history of purchased items.

“For me, it was more important than just doing work for a startup,” he said. “It was about the fact that my story took on a new form.”

Vee! sells more than 10,000 products, from specific cuisines such as kimchi and frozen shrimp dumplings, to staple foods such as milk, bananas and chicken breasts. Buyers can view the company’s website and app in a variety of languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean or Spanish. In the app, shoppers can also order takeaway food at more than 1,000 restaurants.

The startup in the San Francisco Bay Area now supplies fresh produce to 18 states and stable produce to all of the lower 48 states. It has eight execution centers nationwide, in states including Washington to New Jersey, where orders are packed and shipped.

The company is trying to stand out in a fragmented space – and is looking at how online shopping might look in the future. The grocer’s app and website are changing the typical experience of buying food online to make it more social and exciting.

Vee! encourages customers to download videos of recipes and favorite dishes into their app using a feature similar to TikTok. Shoppers can purchase the snacks and ingredients shown in these videos at the touch of a button. They receive discounts when sending a friend or family member and can share custom coupons for items they have recently purchased.

“We just believe that food purchases don’t have to be like what we see today,” said founder and CEO Larry Liu. “It has to be much, much better, much, much more inspiring and fun.”

Changing tastes

Over the past two years, consumers have learned about new ways to fill refrigerators and developed an expanded taste by cooking more at home. This has inspired some to try food sets, deliver food to the door or take advantage of self-extraction.

The pandemic has caused Weee to grow! The private venture-backed startup declined to share total customers and revenue, but said it has so far fulfilled more than 15 million orders. The number of its monthly active users has grown by more than 150% over the year. To date, the startup has raised more than $ 800 million, including a $ 425 million investment round announced in February under SoftBank Vision Fund 2.

The pandemic has also served as a catalyst for the U.S. online grocery market, which accounts for a small but growing share of the industry’s total sales. According to IRI E-Market Insights and Coresight Research, online product sales nearly doubled from $ 29.3 billion in 2019 to $ 57 billion in 2020. According to companies, this year the volume of online sales of products in the country will be almost $ 90 billion. However, brick and mortar still dominate the grocery category, with 2021 in 2021 accounting for 95% of grocery spending in stores, according to a Coresight study.

Online grocery stores do not have sample stations, colorful displays and other experiences that attract people to stores and prompt shopping, said Ken Fenno, president of research and consulting at Coresight Research.

In stores, shoppers “know how to smell fruit. You can walk down the aisles and see if there’s anything new you want. You may have this coincidence: ‘Oh, I forgot I needed it.’ Let me quit, “he said. “The Internet is usually much more search-driven, much more list-driven.”

Retailers like Weee! can revitalize items of experience in grocery shopping to make e-commerce more exciting and personalized, Fenno said. Other grocery stores aimed directly at the consumer have highlighted specialties such as Thrive Market, which sells organic and natural products, or Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods, which sell high quality products at a lower price, offering the wrong shape of fruits and vegetables, broken blacksmith or similar items.

Challenge for Weee! and other smaller players in the online product are gaining new customers by keeping costs low and fighting off traditional grocers who may be encroaching on their territory, Fenno said.

Larry Liu, a Chinese immigrant, started Weee! because of his own struggle with finding favorite foods.


An emigrant tale

For Liu, 41, the challenges that inspired Weee! were personal.

Liu, a first-generation Chinese immigrant, founded the company in 2015 after struggling to find some of his favorite dishes. He was tired from an hour and a half drive to the nearest Asian market and was inspired to see WeChat groups organized by others who missed home tastes. In one, a woman coordinated a group order for friends – and friends of friends – who wanted to buy fresh cod from Half Moon Bay in California.

This experience later shaped some of the Weee! distinctive features of the application, such as the “Community” tab, which resembles social networks with a mixture of videos created by the company and users.

Vee! Liu serves customers who live in communities that do not have enough to support the large Asian market, such as international H Mart f students studying in colleges in the States and seniors living in ancillary housing, Liu said. Most customers order more than twice a month and Weee! is about 40% to 50% of their monthly food budget, he said.

Vee! also gradually adds Hispanic food. It offers a category of Mexican cuisine in California and Texas.

Popular foods include everyday foods such as rice and fresh vegetables, as well as seasonal foods such as sweet winter melons from Vietnam, hot pot sets from South China and sesame pie from North China during the Lunar New Year.

Its app also has a list of returns that come back, such as Japanese snacks to celebrate sakura or cherry blossoms, season or Mother’s Day treats. It also offers a growing range of beauty and household items such as Korean cosmetics.

John M. Chu attends the Disney premiere of “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” at the El Capitan Theater on August 16, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Axel | Bauer-Griffin | Movie Magic Getty Images

A new kind of story

In front of Vii! hired by director Chu, he had already seen the company’s trucks, heard about the company from friends and started getting supplies as a customer of Korean barbecue ingredients such as sauce and short ribs. Intrigued by the company and its mission, he turned to Liu. Their conversations led to a job offer.

Soon, Chu will begin filming the Broadway hit “Wicked” from Universal Pictures with Ariana Grande and Cynthia Eriva. Despite the big project, he said he wants to free up space on his schedule for Weee!

As a child, Chu often did his homework at Chef Chu’s Bar, a family restaurant that his parents opened in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1969. The restaurant is featured in a video about Weee’s goals! to connect generations and cultures through the connection between generations and cultures. food.

Now the father himself, Chu said he wants his three young children to learn about their culture.

“I wanted them to smell Asian food, [to feel] that for them it is not exotic and not surprising, – he said. – That for them it was a house, as well as for me.

Chu recently took advantage of his connections with Hollywood Rolodex, teaming up with Disney and Pixar to develop recipes and shoot videos for Weee! an app inspired by the movie “Turning Red” about a Sino-Canadian teenager who turns into a giant red panda. Chu interviewed film director Dami Shea about making the film and unpacked some of her favorite snacks from childhood.

Chu and Liu said that by telling the stories of dishes, the food service can introduce people to new traditions and tastes.

Erin Edwards, 34, of Santa Ana, California, and her family are such eaters. Edwards, who is neither Asian nor Hispanic, made her first order at Weee! in February after watching a video shared by a friend. Since then, she has continued to shop online to supplement her weekly shopping at Trader Joe’s and Target.

Her family of four bought Chinese snacks and ingredients for Asian recipes, from crab-flavored potato chips to noodles for homemade fo. Paki, Japanese biscuit sticks soaked in chocolate, has become a favorite dessert for her 2-year-old daughter Holland and 4-year-old daughter Ren.

“Watching people make videos and make tutorials is so easy,” she said. “We’ve got a lot more power to do it ourselves.”

Liu said he sees a similar culture of sharing in his three young children.

“Their classmates, regardless of skin color, all drink tea with bean milk. They all eat sushi. They all eat Korean kebabs, Indian curries and Mexican tacos,” he said. “So I think the next generation, their tastes will be very, very diverse. In a sense, we’re really creating an assortment for future cultural researchers.”

Disclosure: CNBC is owned by NBCUniversal, the parent company of Universal Pictures.

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